Clara replayed Matt’s words as she turned on ‘Home Alone.’
“He wants me to manage the coffee shop. It would be a dream job – being able to run the business and still have time for baking…” Clara felt sugarplum fairies dancing – she wanted the job at Soulful Java.
Looking at the stack of bills on the table she sighed. “Bills don’t lie, I need the job at FinTech…it will be a great opportunity – right Pumpkin Spice.”
“Mrrreow,” Pumpkin Spice’s answer was inconclusive.
Clara, wearing her Christmas Cat pjs, she relaxed on the couch enjoying the colorful Christmas lights as she started Home Alone. She would enjoy this night off, even if all she could think about was Matt and the coffee shop.
“Uncle Clark,” Matt answered his phone.
Clark is the senior partner at the firm. While Clark supported his nephew’s coffee shop, he was frustrated that Matt wasn’t prioritizing his design career. He hoped to put him on the right path, especially with the Community College project looming the new year.
“How’s my favorite nephew?”
“I’m your only nephew,” Matt laughed.
“Can you swing by the office tomorrow at 11? The Community College planning committee is stopping by to discuss the project. They cannot wait to meet you.”
“Yeah,” Matt gulped. “I need coverage for the shop, but of course I’ll be there.”
“Matt, I’m proud of your work at Soulful Java, but you need to realign your priorities. You are an architect, not a barista. I understand the investment in Soulful Java, but you cannot run it fulltime. We need your expertise at the firm.”
“I understand.” Matt admitted he had invested most of his energy into starting the coffee shop. He never intended to give up being an architect for Soulful Java, but he found running the shop was rewarding. “I need to find a coffee-work balance.”
“I need you all-in on this project.”
“If I commit to the project, I will give my all.”
“If? If is not an option, Matthew Orsay. This is one of the largest contracts we have had in the firm’s history, and they want you – your designs. I recommend you hire help at the shop – or even considering selling it.”
“I can’t sell Soulful Java.”
“And I can’t afford to lose your talent at the firm.” His voice firm and determined. “The Willis Group will buy Soulful Java. They are looking to expand their holdings downtown.”
“And they will ruin it! The Willis Group doesn’t care about community and quality coffee.”
“Think it over.”
Uncle Clark hung up unceremoniously. Matt understood his uncle’s point of view. Matt loves architecture and design, but frankly he had gotten burned out the past year. The investment in Soulful Java got his creative juices flowing again.
“The community college project is a dream, and I do have a lot of ideas,” he thought to himself. “I’ve just got to figure out how to keep Soulful Java running. If only Clara…” He stopped himself. Clara would not work for him full-time. He could not pay her as much as FinTech.
Matt spent the rest of the evening drafting ideas to present to the college board. He could not screw this up. The entire firm was counting on him.
Clara continued to be shocked by the number of cupcake orders that continued to come in from her social media. Her inbox was inundated with orders.
“I will enjoy the fifteen minutes of cupcake fame before I start my new job next week,” Clara smiled as she put on her apron.
It was going to be a hectic and sweet Monday. Clara was catering two tea parties, including an American Girl party for Lucy and her friends. Emily was kind enough to help with bakery deliveries.
Across town, Matt suited up for his meeting with the community college board. He had a few leads on coffee shop managers.
“I’ll get Clara’s feedback tomorrow, see if she can review the applications.”
“Let me get this straight, Matt said he wants you to manage the coffee shop?” Emily loading her car with cupcake deliveries.
“Not exactly. He said he was going to offer it to me before I got the job at FinTech.”
“Did you tell him you are interested in the job?”
“No, that would be foolish.”
“You are interested in running the shop though?”
“Interested does not equal yes – you know I have to be practical. I’m single and have bills to pay – and a cat to support.”
“It doesn’t hurt to keep your options open. Matt recognizes your talent, and you could become business partners.” Emily suggested.
“Thanks for being my delivery elf.” Clara ignored the last statement from her sister’s mouth. “I’ll see you at the tea party.”
“Lucy cannot wait!”
Every year, the Bedford Springs Historical Society hosts a Christmas Tea for elementary students and their dolls. This year’s theme was a Dickens Christmas. The kids would enjoy yummy treats (made by Clara) and a kid-friendly version of A Christmas Carol.
Lucy and Samantha were dressed in matching red velvet Christmas dresses with black patten leather shoes and lace stockings. Becca unfortunately had Christmas horse camp and could not attend.
“You and Samantha look dashing.” Clara clipped on a plaid Christmas bow in Lucy’s reddish hair.
“Samantha loves the tea cakes you made.”
“I’m glad she approves.”
“We made you a special gift.” Lucy handed her aunt a box wrapped in silver paper with a gold bow.
“Thank you, I cannot wait to open it on Christmas.”
“Don’t make us wait that long,” Lucy pressed Clara to open the gift.
Tearing into the packaging, Clara unwrapped a hand painted Nutcracker ornament.
“You made this?”
“I know you like the Nutcracker and your name is Clara – so…”
“I love it.”
Clara treasured the moment. Christmas was coming soon, and yet she wished these moments would last forever.
“How did your meeting with the community college board go,” Clara greeted Matt on Tuesday morning.
“Really well. The board loves my preliminary ideas.” Matt filled Clara in on the sticky situation with his uncle.
“He wants you to sell the shop?”
“I hate the idea, but unless I find a qualified manager and additional staff…I might have too. I don’t want to give up being an architect. The problem is I don’t want to give up Soulful Java either.”
“Let me make a few calls. A few of my Data Dot colleagues would be good candidates. One of them, Lacy, worked at Starbucks corporate offices.”
“I’d appreciate the referrals.”
“In all honestly, I wish I could step in an manage the shop. I love Soulful Java and the opportunity to serve as baker.”
“The job is yours if you want it.”
“I appreciate that Matt, I just don’t think I can turn down the FinTech offer…”
“I get it. You and I are battling dreams vs practical reality.” Matt paused. “I’m excited for The Nutcracker this weekend.”
“Me too. I appreciate the invitation.” Clara smiled softly. “I have a few orders to prepare in the kitchen.”
“I’m going to line up a few interviews for staff. I’ll reach out to Lacy. I appreciate the lead.”
Matt did get a hold of Lacy, who was more than qualified for the management position, but unfortunately, she had just taken a full-time position at another software company.
“I’d love to work weekends,” Lacy offered.
“That would be a big help,” Matt thanked Lacy. “Let me know if you have any referrals for the full-time position.”
“Clara, I hoped I’d find you here,” Maddy Webster stopped by the coffee shop on her lunch break.
“Ms. Webster, nice to see you,” Clara cheeks flushed, trying to hold her composure. Clara was covered in flour and her hair was a mess.
“Please call me Maddy,” The executive wore a burgundy pant suit with fashionable boots. “I was craving coffee and one of your signature cupcakes.”
“I recommend the Lucy Sweetbread Cakes and a vanilla mocha.”
“Sounds delicious,” Maddy reached out to pay.
“On the house,” Clara offered.
“We cannot wait to have you start next week. I’m getting your office set-up now and will introduce you to your assistant via Zoom later this week.”
“I’m so honored for the opportunity to work at FinTech…” Clara held her breath. “I do have one issue I’d like to discuss.”
“I am excited for the job, but I do have commitments with Soulful Java and my cupcake business, at least through January. I know this job is going to demand most of my free time but did hope I could possibly have some leeway as I transition out of the baking business.”
There Clara had gotten it out of her system. Would FinTech be flexible with her schedule outside of work – or was she getting married to the job like she did at Data Dot.
“Director is going to be a full time – really around the clock role. Not to disrespect your free time Clara, but you will be communicating with offices in Asia and the Americas and often working late. The benefit is you will be on a fast track to grow with the company and your salary justifies the extra time.”
“Of course, I understand.”
“Don’t get me wrong, you have the best cupcakes I’ve ever eaten, but with FinTech you won’t have time to have your cake and eat it too. I’m sorry.”
Clara and Maddy exchanged niceties and casual conversation before the executive returned to work.
“I’m a fool,” Clara buried her head in her apron. “I should be over the moon at this job opportunity and all I can think about is wanting to keep working at Soulful Java and baking cupcakes. My priorities are all off.”
It was not so much that the job at FinTech didn’t excite her – it was the fact that she knew the sacrifices she’d give up for the position. She would work long hours and stress out over quotas and operations.
“It’s just because Data Dot burned me out.” She reasoned, but deep-down Clara realized as tempting as the salary and prestige was – she did not really want to battle the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, she might not have a choice.
The week sped faster than Santa’s sleigh on supercharge. Between baking holiday orders and prepping for her new job, Clara barely had time to sip her hot cocoa.
“Any luck on finding a manager?” Clara checked in with Matt on Thursday.
“No, but a lot of people are already MIA for the holidays.”
“You still have a few more weeks,” Clara encouraged. “I spoke with my new job and unfortunately I’m not going to have much time for baking. I was thinking I could provide cupcakes once a week – maybe Saturdays and you can freeze them, so you have enough fresh pastries for the week?”
“That is a great idea, although long term I don’t know how feasible it will be.” Matt understood the time constraints Clara would have with her new job. He would look at working with other vendors in January – if he still ran the business.
Martin Willis continued to leave voicemails asking Matt to sell the shop. It was a tempting offer, but Matt had poured his heart into the shop and did not want to give it up. He would figure out a way to balance his architecture career with his business.
“I know you’re swamped with cupcake orders, but if you’re free tonight, I have an extra ticket to the Gingerbread Village at the Watermark Hotel.” Matt took a chance on asking Clara.
“I love the Gingerbread Village,” Clara’s eyes lit up. In all honesty she had been so busy she forgot about the seasonal tradition at Bedford Springs hotel.
“Leave around six? We can grab dinner there.”
Located in the center of downtown Bedford Springs, The Watermark was built in the 1920s in the Art Deco style to cater to the burgeoning financial district. When The Great Depression hit, The Watermark served as affordable housing before being restored to its former glory. It reopened as a hotel in the 1950s and has been celebrating its Christmas Village since the 1960s.
“This year’s exhibit features over 100 gingerbread houses divided into a variety of categories.” Clara read the brochure to Matt as they meandered through the magical gingerbread village.
“Look at this replica of St. Mark’s Parish,” Clara motioned as they enjoyed the beautiful gingerbread renditions of local landmarks. “Look – your firm has an entry.”
“My Uncle Clark is the Gingerbread pro -he has won awards.”
“Maybe next year you can create a Soulful Java gingerbread house?”
“I’ll need a baker to help me.”
The pair wandered the displays for over an hour, blown away by the creativity and details of each gingerbread creations.
“I’m in awe of the children’s category -the kid’s submissions are amazing.” Clara and Matt discussed. “Especially the Teddy Bear Gingerbread Castle.”
“There is a great taco truck outside -you hungry?” Matt suggested.
“Chips and Salsa are my weakness,” Clara laughed. “Plus, calories don’t count during the holidays.”
After ordering steak tacos with spicy queso and pico, Clara and Matt found table near the square Christmas tree.
The colored lights glittered, twinkling like stars. Hand cut ribbon adorned the ten-foot Fraser Fir with and Star of Bethlehem on top.
“Bedford Springs is so pretty at Christmas time. It feels magical.” Clara noted. “You have any fun plans for Christmas?”
“I spend Christmas Eve with my sister’s family. She goes all out and Becca is determined to see Santa this year.” Matt laughed. “We then have a big Christmas Day dinner with my parents and Uncle Clark’s family. My mom makes the best sweet potato casserole.”
“Sounds delicious. Think she’ll give me the recipe.”
“Only if you bake her a cupcake,” Matt teased. “What about you – any fun plans for Christmas?”
“I go to Christmas Eve Mass with my family and spend the day with my sister Emily’s family on Christmas. I’m in charge of making the pot roast this year.”
“Save me leftovers?”
“I’m a much better baker than pot roast prepper, but sure.”
After finishing their tacos, the pair walked side by side down Main Street taking in the lights and atmosphere of Christmas in the city.
“There is the FinTech building…” Matt pointed to the skyscraper. “I’m proud of you, Clara.”
“Thanks.” Clara’s perplexed expression didn’t go past Matt.
“You look confused.”
“I am confused. I know that I should take the job at FinTech. It is exciting and interesting and pays well…”
“I really love baking – and the coffee shop. I hate to leave.”
“Listen, I support your decision either way, and wouldn’t fault you for taking the job, but I love working with you and I know we can build Soulful Java into the best coffee and bakery in the state.” Matt stepped out on a limb. “I need a partner for Soulful Java…”
“I’d love to help you run the shop, but…”
“Just think about it. I’m prepared to make you a full partner in the business. I can’t pay as much as FinTech, but you’ll have stable hours…”
“I…” Clara’s heart rushed to say ‘yes,’ but her head stopped her.
“Just think about it.”
“I’ll let you know by Christmas,” Clara promised, squeezing Matt’s hand.
Clara poured her heart into baking the next few days, hoping it would settle her emotions, but she felt like sprinkles stuck in frosting.
She took time to dig into the Fintech division guide – prepping for her new role. She had lots of great ideas about how to run the sales division. A consummate professional, Clara organized her thoughts and ideas into a perfectly prepped presentation.
As Clara organized her ideas for FinTech, she received a call from her friend Ginny in Seattle.
“Hey girl! I wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas!” Ginny’s friendly voice sounded through the receiver. “How are things going post Data Dot?”
Clara brought Ginny up to speed on her cupcake business and new opportunity at FinTech. Ginny, always a source of wisdom, was the perfect sounding board to analyze the pros and cons of FinTech and baking.
“I think you should consider approaching FinTech about a consulting role.” Ginny suggested. “You love sales and provide excellent value – but with consulting you don’t have the fulltime responsibilities of director.”
“I don’t know if Maddy is interested in that…” Clara’s mind racing. “I like the idea though.”
“Just give it a thought,” Ginny encouraged. “Several of our friends in Seattle have made a career move to consulting and you have the backbone and skill to make it work.”
“Thanks Ginny, you gave me something to think about.”
Clara’s creative business brain went to work. Could she really make a go as a consultant? It would allow her the opportunity to focus on baking without giving up her sales career. It seemed risky though.
“I can at least research the idea and see if Ms. Webster would be open to me coming in more consultant role.” Clara was renewed by the idea. Cupcakes and Business consulting…could it work?
It didn’t hurt to research her options.
Matt felt relieved after finalizing Lacy’s part-time hours and adding on two part-time baristas, Josie, and Alejandro. Both baristas attend the community college and had prior experience.
“Having extra help will keep things running smoothly.” Matt thought to himself as she began to dream up plans for community college design project. The project excited his creative sensibilities, and he was excited to be part of building a wing that would provide top educational opportunities for local students.
Matt had completed most of his Christmas shopping but still had one important gift left. He wanted to buy something special for Clara. They had become fast friends in the past month, and he couldn’t imagine her not being part of his life moving forward.
“Funny how Clara says I gave her the opportunity to bake, but she really helped the shop grow. Our business has gone way up since we started selling her cupcakes.” Matt smiled, remembering the first day they met at the school festival. “I think I know the perfect gift…”
Clara was also brainstorming gift ideas for Matt. He changed her life when he offered her the chance to bake for Soulful Java. Sure, she has the business savvy – but Matt believed in her and helped her see the impossible dreams might be possible.
Emily suggested a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired coffee mug. Clara liked the idea, but wanted something more personal for Matt. “I have an idea…
The latter part of the week was nonstop for Clara. Every minute she was not baking, Clara was brainstorming the idea of becoming a consultant. She spoke with several experts in the field and sped-read a few ‘How-to’ books. It seemed like a feasible idea, but she was not sure it would work with FinTech. They needed a sales director and with only a few days from her start day – it would not be easy or smart to back out of the job.
“Clara, it’s wonderful to see you,” Maddy Webster expressed genuine warmth as Clara entered her office on the Friday before Christmas. “I’d love to give you a tour of your office…”
“Actually, I’ve been doing some soul-searching and I have a proposal I wanted to run by you.” Clara appeared poised and confident, even if her nerves were shot. “While I’m honored to be part of the FinTech team, I realize that I don’t want to be married to my job. I am a hard and diligent worker who goes above and beyond, but there is more to life than closing deals.”
“You are single, it’s not like you’re pressed for time,” Maddy’s words stung, but truth be told it was a common assessment. Single professionals in sales were expected to have little to no life outside of their sales role. Sure it depends on the company, but Clara understood Maddy’s logic.
“I know it sounds silly, but I love to bake and the past few weeks of owning and operating my own business – cooperating with Soulful Java – it reminded me what I love about sales and service. I want the job at FinTech, but I don’t want to give up baking and my life outside of work. I want a work life balance.” Clara could sense Maddy’s disappointment.
“I am sorry you feel that way,” Maddy paused. “I saw your drive at Data Dot, and we need a player who is all in here.”
“All-in, yes, but I don’t think I can work 24/7.” Clara tried to explain, realizing she might be making the worst mistake of her life. “I know I can help FinTech accomplish their goals from a sales and growth perspective. I have the vision and understanding of the industry to make it happen. I want to work at FinTech, but what I propose is you hire me as a consultant.”
“A consultant? That is unconventional,” Maddy raised her eyebrows – annoyed and curious.
“I’ve prepared a proposal,” Clara handed her presentation to the executive. “This outlines the sales plan moving forward to ensure that FinTech is the cybersecurity leader in technology. The sales initiatives are outlined in this brief, and I trust we can work together to grow this business into the future.”
“This is amazing, and I agree with all of your plans, but I need a full-time director…”
“I understand and that is why I cannot be the director of sales. What I propose is you hire me as a consultant to help lead the team from an outside perspective.”
“Clara, I’m confused. We offered you a huge salary uplift and a job most in your position could only dream about.”
“Honestly, I cannot explain my decision with reason. The truth is I rediscovered my love for baking and turning my passion into my own business is important to me. I can provide my expertise and ensure FinTech succeeds as a consultant– it will be worth your investment.”
“So, you are turning down the director position.”
The pause was so tense and heavy that Clara felt that the world had ended. Clara kept quiet – she wasn’t going to speak first – that is a golden rule of sales negotiation.
“Well…Ms. Keene…I hate for us to lose your talent, but I recognize your entrepreneurship and commend you. I want to hire you for a two-year contract as official sales consultant for FinTech. We will require a minimum number of hours, but we can align that with your entrepreneurial goals!”
“You won’t regret this,” Clara gushed in gratitude. “I am excited to partner with FinTech.”
“I’ll see you on December 26th – I know the team will appreciate your proposal.”
“I’ll be here.”
“And Clara? Bring some cupcakes to the meeting,” Maddy’s warmth lifted the tension.
“Thank you, God,” she whispered as she floated out of the office, stuck on cloud nine. “I’ve got to tell Matt!”
She dialed his number, which went straight to voicemail. Snow flurries had started to fall lightly, the temperature a frosty 31 degrees, as she ran four blocks to the coffee shop.
“Slow down reindeer before you get frostbite,” the Salvation Army Santa gave a jolly laugh as Clara nearly ran into him.
“Merry Christmas,” she threw a twenty-dollar bill in the red can.
The line at Soulful Java was out the door as Clara rushed inside, her face Rudolph red.
“Clara, I didn’t expect you this morning.”
“Thought, I could lend a hand.” Their eyes met in the frenzy of the morning rush.
“I’m happy to have the help.”
“Speaking of help – is your offer still on the table?”
“You mean become business partners? Of course.”
“I accept your proposal.”
“What, really?” Matt was overjoyed and flabbergasted at the same time. “What about FinTech.”
“I’ll fill you in on the details later. Right now, we need all hands-on deck to caffeinate this crowd.”
Over the next two days, Clara and Matt worked together of drafting out their business partnership. They would sign the contracts after Christmas.
“It seems fitting that we should send off the holiday at The Nutcracker,” Matt squeezed Clara’s hand as they ended the symphony hall at BPAC.
“Why do you say that?”
“Clara you are my sugar plum fairy. You waltzed into my life at a school bake sale with your Nutcracker Sweet cupcakes and turned my life upside down.”
“Well, you could be a Christmas prince,” Clara pressed her lips together, revealing her dimples.
After the show they meandered downtown looking at the lights, discussing their business plans.
“We’re at the Thorne House,” Clara noticed.
“Imagine that” Matt laughed knowingly. “I have a surprise for you.”
He led her to the front porch and the porch swing. He handed her a small package.
“What’s this?” Clara taken aback by the perfectly wrapped jewelry box.
“Just a thank you gift.”
Clara opened the box, revealing a bracelet with coffee and cupcake charms.
“I love it.”
“I bought it so you would remember your time at the coffee shop, but now I see it is as a toast to our new adventure.”
“I left your gift at the coffee shop. It’s on your desk.” Clara a bit embarrassed she didn’t have the gift with her. She’d settled on a vintage print of the Soulful Java building she’d found at an antique store.
“I look forward to opening it with you tomorrow – if you can spare a few minutes on Christmas Eve?”
“We do have coffee and cupcakes to serve to hungry elves tomorrow morning.”
Matt stood up, leading Clara underneath a twig of mistletoe.
“I don’t know if you are much for tradition, but mind if I steal a Christmas kiss.”
“I guess we have to,” Clara fell into Matt’s arms.
“I don’t want to complicate the business side of things, but I think I might be falling for you Ms. Keene.”
“I think the feeling is mutual.”
Copyright Firehole Press 2021